If you knew all the details you might say that we had the road trip from hell over the holidays. Many things happened that were not part of the plan. Never mind the dampening effect of the near-constant rain once we entered California. Never mind the “collateral damage” due to the drunken rage of a relative, or the blizzards driving through Flagstaff or Santa Fe; I just don’t want to talk about all that. Instead, the not entirely unexpected behavior of corporate employees and American travelers is the topic of this rant.
I had never heard of Hilton Home2 Suites before this trip. We made reservations at the one in Victorville for the return trip because it was not only on our route, but it accepted pets and claimed to enforce COVID-19 public health protocols. It is especially nice to stay in a suite when traveling with pets.
Well, I would not exactly call that one a suite, especially as advertized for “extended stays.” The room was a little bigger than the average hotel room and it had a refrigerator of usable size, a microwave, and a couch. Oh well.
When we checked in we noticed several people in the lobby not wearing masks. With the explosive spread of the Omicron variant, California had instituted a rule requiring masks in all interior public spaces. The young lady at the registration desk, who was masked, said that she was not allowed to enforce the rule. It was early evening and we noticed no other employees. Is there no security guard at least, who could enforce the mask rule for everyone’s safety? “I’m the only one here. My boyfriend is staying in the lobby for my protection until my shift is over.”
Gradually, I got the picture. Home2 Suites are Hilton’s new low-cost profit center. Average rates, absolute minimum staffing, austere landscaping in low-rent commercial/industrial locations, and no public health requirements to avoid confronting any self-indulgent COVID deniers, are all parts of the plan. Well, that’s it for me, Home2; I won’t be back.
The Courtyard Marriott Flagstaff is more upscale than the Home2. After all, it is in the heart of Flagstaff, a vacation destination any time of the year. Our room was by no means a suite, although it did have a very small refrigerator and a couch. We chose it for the same reasons on this trip: pet friendly and COVID protocols reportedly in place.
The hotel sits on a hill adjacent to the highway, buffered from traffic noise. It was nice to see a row of Tesla charging stations in the lower parking lot. Several employees were on duty. The “bistro” in the lobby offered numerous types of beer, Starbuck’s coffee, and a supper menu of only three items, supposedly due to COVID protocols, which were not enforced.
As with the Home2, we saw several guests in the lobby wearing no mask. The registration clerk responded to our query by saying that employees were required to wear masks but were not allowed to require them of guests. Just like Hilton, Marriott corporate cares more for short-term profits by not disturbing some customers’ public-health indifference than it does the health and safety of all its guests.
A Cultural Disease with Pockets of Sanity
Somewhere on I-40 we stopped at a busy gas station with an elaborate store-snack-bar-souvenir shop. I masked up to go in and use the restroom, uncomfortable seeing the crowd inside. I was surprised to see a woman stationed at the entrance enforcing the mask rule for anyone who wanted to enter. She offered a mask to anyone without one. I nevertheless got in and out as quickly as possible.
I was encouraged by that pocket of sanity in a nation that far too often puts commerce and consumerism above public safety and civic responsibility. Despite decades of science-denial and conspiracy theories about almost anything people feel uncomfortable about (and that is politically exploitable by engendering hate for imagined enemies), I remain amazed at the continued dysfunctional culture of industrial consumerism. The potential collapse of civilization confronts us due to the damage we continue to inflict on both the climate and ecosystems upon which we rely for sustenance, as well as to our health. Yet the collective response is mostly indifference to a planetary emergency.